Hit or Sh**: FOX’s THE GRINDER

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

the grinder

“Meta” rarely works as well as it does in the pilot for THE GRINDER, FOX’s Rob Lowe and Fred Savage-led courtroom comedy. Lowe plays famous television actor Dean Sanderson, Jr. who starred as a hard-hitting, take-no-shit lawyer in a recently ended courtroom drama called “The Grinder.” Wanting to escape it all and find himself, he decides to visit his brother Stewart (Savage) who works at a real-person job as an actual lawyer in Boise, Idaho. The chemistry between odd couple Dean and Stewart is outstanding, perhaps only overshadowed by the chemistry between Stewart and his charismatic, sharp-witted wife Debbie, played effortlessly by IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA alum Mary Elizabeth Ellis. Watching bumbling and gutless Stewart fight a losing case, Dean tries to step in and save the day with the charm and mesmerism of a character only the Rob Lowiest of Rob Lowe could pull off, and the show really takes off in full stride from there.

the grinder rob lowe

Rob Lowe plays Rob Lowe in Rob Lowe’s THE GRINDER (Executive Produced by Rob Lowe)

The main tension of the episode becomes clear when Dean decides his next career-step is to leave Hollywood and become a real-life lawyer in Idaho like his brother. Having always lived in his brother’s shadow, Stewart feels the one thing he thought he had to himself slipping away, with his father, the press, and seemingly everyone around him giving more attention to the celebrity-turned-attorney than anything else. This sounds dramatic, and it certainly creates the needed tension for the show to work, but it’s done in a way that kept me literally laughing out loud (LLOL: it’s a thing) every few minutes. This is so rare for a network show, and was so unexpected going in, that I kept hoping these moments weren’t just a fluke.

They weren’t.

Perhaps what makes this show so undeniably likable is that it never takes itself too seriously. It not only knows that it’s a parody of the court procedural, it also makes Rob Lowe a character in that court procedural that it is a parody of, and then parodies the actual events of that court procedural. It’s the parody-ception of parodies, and it’s all the more enjoyable because of it. The show is high-energy and tight; there’s not a moment of lull or boredom, and yet the whole thing still feels miraculously grounded. This is due in part to the brilliant casting of the show, which not only pits comedy veteran Lowe with comeback-king Savage, but also fills the supporting cast with some of the most talented, underrated actors in Hollywood. Ever heard of Connor Kalopsis? Neither had I, but this kid is dynamite. Taking on the role of Stewart’s 13-year-old son Ethan, he steals every scene he’s given and it never once feels like he is overacting the comedy, a terrible hallmark of most young network stars.

If I have anything negative to take away from the pilot, it’s that the concept doesn’t sound like a show I would normally watch. Its plot seems to pull from so many different shows already on television that, without watching the actual show, it could come off as feeling contrived and stale. But I have to hand it to writer/creators Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel. They found a way to make this show work and work really, really well. From the dramatically comedic, self-aware moments of Rob Lowe’s courtroom (and general) demeanor, to the expertly crafted dialogue and pure comedic brilliance displayed by both the writers and actors alike, this first episode absolutely deserves your twenty-two minutes.

Verdict: Hit

THE GRINDER airs on FOX on Tuesdays

Spencer is a Crossfader guest contributor in addition to an aspiring television writer and showrunner currently residing in Los Feliz, where he sleeps on a cardboard box under the I-5 freeway. You can often find him listening to podcasts and eating at Costco.

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